Understanding How to Succeed with Social Selling
I work with and talk to companies of all sizes, from single founder startups, small consulting companies through to mid-market companies and many are really struggling with what they need to do to reinvigorate their top-line growth potential. It’s a reflection of how dramatically different selling is now compared to the traditional concept of sales.
Much is written about how sales has fundamentally changed and it most certainly has changed, although some companies still cling to the old ways. Sadly they’ll learn the hard way.
Now the mantra is “Social Selling” and unlike the old style of sales where you could define a predictable process, social selling is a kind of big amorphous black hole that is as much a dark art as it is a science.
The core tenet of social selling is to be creating content that’s relevant for your customer persona/s and publishing it in the channels they access regularly such that you and your company are easily discovered and readily perceived to be reliable experts.
Operationally, social selling requires a range of tools, metrics and expertise that can provide the necessary validation that this mode of making sales is working. The ultimate measure can of course only be whether your top-line is growing.
Where traditional sales and social selling differ greatly is that the buyer now has virtually total control. This is the facet of contemporary sales that the old-style sales folks struggle to come to terms with.
It is however an absolute reality. The buyer has all the tools necessary to not just diagnose their problem, they can very easily do indepth research and even due diligence on you as their potential supplier without you ever knowing their identity.
In fact you could be on their short list and be culled for any number of reasons without ever knowing you got to the #2 position and were dropped. Could have been because of a bad customer review, a less than friendly website, poor demonstration of your solution, a lack of video explainers, limited customer testimonials etc.
This is the new sales reality and it scares the heck out of many, perhaps the majority, of business owners, CEOs and Sales VPs.
However given that it is a “reality”, you can’t ignore it and hope like hell that you can maintain and ideally grow the top-line while hanging onto your roster of customers and finding some new ones to replace those that churn away from you.
The structure of the new sales regime has to look just about totally different to how most organizations are still structured.
The design, strategy and tactics of a modern sales function has to be formed around the plain fact that buyers are in control and you need to be easily found in the places they’ll look when doing their research.
Further, the emphasis shifts from the old ways of prospecting, building relationships and earning trust to creating a brand that buyers relate to wherever they find you and demonstrating that all you care about is the success of your customers.
What’s Important in the New Sales Reality
- the foundation of any effort to embrace the new sales model is to revisit your Product/Market fit. This is true for literally any sized company and even those that are long established. Ask yourself the most fundamental question as to whether you are solving a real problem and for whom do you solve. I’m regularly amazed how often business owners and CEOs make assumptions that this has been resolved and all we need to do now is “sell”.
- you need to be focused on just a few customer personas and if you’re a startup that could well be a single persona. Every persona you believe you can service demands a level of personal attention and collateral. Be aware that for every persona you want to service you’ll need to have the resources to pursue them with total excellence in how you present and are perceived.
- data and metrics will be of paramount importance. That means you need expert SEO skills in your team, either hired or contracted. You’ll also need to develop your own in-depth understanding of how SEO works in order to manage the SEO experts and ask sensible questions.
- paramount in SEO is to understand what your customer persona/s are searching for. Precisely what keywords do they use and how does that play into your pitch, collateral and content. That in turn will impact what your internet presence needs to be including website and other channels like blogs and whether LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are important.
- you’ll want to conduct ongoing, detailed analysis of your competitors in order to benchmark your efforts. The good thing is that every company has to put themselves out there for their prospects, so your research can yield incredible details of their offerings. It’s really tough to hold back on how much you reveal to the public because obviously you may lose potential buyers who can’t find the information they need for their research.
- then you will have to develop the skills or buy the skills to create content and ideally that will be long-form content, just like this article. Once you have done that work your content can be reused and repurposed for specific channels, like for example a Tweet of 240 characters. Be aware that written content isn’t enough. All forms of content including video and possibly Virtual Reality content are essential to being seen as a compelling and viable supplier.
- now it’s important to mention how your outbound sales efforts will need to change. And you shouldn’t neglect outbound, although it can’t be the spray-and-pray kind of outbound — that’s a total waste of time and money and a great way to piss-off prospects. Outbound can only work based on deep research and an objective analysis of whether your product/service is a good fit to their needs. Only then can you make contact and table your reasons for believing that the prospect should allocate time to hear your pitch. In fact for startups, outbound is likely the only they can start to secure early stage customers, so be prepared to do very detailed homework on the companies and people you believe ought to be your customer.
- established companies should also review their organization structure to ensure it reflects the elements of contemporary sales outlined above. My view is that the “Sales Department” is well past its use-by-date and should be replaced by “Customer Success” with a very different set of incentives that aren’t built on the concept of sales commissions.
Depending on the size of your company and the resources you have will dictate to what extent you can embrace and implement a social selling program.
As a new startup you won’t have the cash and people to implement a full social selling regime and so you’ll likely focus on targeted outbound per point 8.
Established companies who want to remain relevant and viable have little choice but to allocate resources and time to understand what it takes to be successful at social selling. If you’re a business owner and find that this new way of acquiring customers is simply bewildering, take comfort in knowing you aren’t alone. Just don’t sit there not making changes and hoping for some sales wins — that’s like buying a ticket in the lottery — you might win although then again you might not.
If there’s limited budget to hire or contract SEO and social selling skills, then at least make a start on several of the points above, specifically 1, 2, 5 and 6. These are the areas where most companies can at least start to get themselves into shape for social selling.
Finally if you want to discuss how you could start on the social selling journey, please contact me or if you’re a Sydney resident book some time during the SEVENmile office-hours sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings — click here to book.
You can also message me through LinkedIn or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Greg Twemlow is a Sydney-based Social Enterprise Founder | Startup Mentor | CEO | Writer | Speaker | Podcaster